Redistricting the Council: The Pieces Don't Add Up to a Plan

Slicing and dicing Los Angeles into new city council districts isn't going to be pretty, easy or even fair. As Jessica Levinson noted at 1st and Spring, the special commission set up to draw new boundaries voted a bare majority to release a proposed map that would make - and break - political ambitions at City Hall.

And that has everyone wondering how the puzzle pieces will eventually fall into place.

The commission chairman has said he will convene a series of public meetings to gather comments, before the commission approves a final map by the March 1 deadline. But the city council will have the final say on what's in and what's out of a member's district.

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And that's the problem, according to the City Maven. The boundary revisions include:

  • West Hills moving from the Third District to the Twelfth
  • Sunland-Tujunga moving from the Second District to the Seventh
  • The Sixth District picking up Foothill Trails and Shadow Hills
  • The Second District picking up all of Studio City and Toluca Lake, which were previously part of the Fourth District
  • Lake Balboa, Encino, Sherman Oaks, Bel-Air and the Hollywood/Highland complex moving into the Fourth District
  • The Fifth District losing its Valley neighborhoods, picking up Mid-City West, South Robertson and Greater Wilshire
  • LAX remaining in the Eleventh District but part of Westchester moving to the Eighth District
  • The First District picking up most of Highland Park
What's in and what's out, according to the Los Angeles Times, leaves some city council members geographically adrift:
Councilman Dennis Zine would live slightly outside his west San Fernando Valley district during his last year in office. Councilwoman Jan Perry's district would be shifted south, causing her to lose much of downtown - a coveted and resurgent hub of business and development - while gaining Watts. Perry's downtown home would be outside her district. Councilman Tom LaBonge's 4th District . . . would be extended from Silver Lake, where he lives, west to Bel-Air and then north to Encino. And (Councilman Bill) Rosendahl would see much of Westchester taken over by Parks.

For Valley historian Kevin Roderick at LA Observed:

The ugliest district - perhaps in city history - has to be Tom La Bonge's new 4th district. . . (I)t's hard to imagine two less-related LA intersections than Sunset Boulevard/Benton Way in Silver Lake and Roscoe/White Oak in Northridge. Yes, under these maps, they are somehow in the same district. Someone from the suburban West Valley - an area now represented by Mitchell Englander - could be elected to represent urban Silver Lake, and vice versa.

Some of this gerrymandering is a genuine attempt to deal with demographic change. According to the 2010 Census, Latinos are 48.5% of the city's population. Non-Hispanic whites are 28.6%. Asians are 11.3%, and African Americans account for just 9.2%.

But much of it is bare-knuckle ethnic politics - pitting African American pols, whose black constituencies are shrinking and dispersing, against Latino electeds.

Or maybe the map is just a naked money grab, as LA Weekly reporter Simone Wilson tartly noted:

(S)ome City Councilmembers' appointees are attempting to snatch the areas of L.A. with the most potential for development, then incorporate them into their own districts. Because any weathered citywatcher knows: Every new skyscraper means a real-estate mogul who's willing to kiss a politician's behind (aka, plumpen their campaign fund) for a tax break or some other party favor.

Long-time city hall watcher Ron Kaye had a more Machiavellian assessment:

(The commission majority) released maps deliberately intended to infuriate almost everybody so that people will be begging for mercy and be willing to accept crumbs from the table of power as usual and settle for districts that are only half as gerrymandered as these.

The puzzle pieces will have to fit together soon. And when they do, there will be losers and winners at City Hall.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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